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- The Belted Seas - 3/29 -
but the United States, an' there ain't no United States laws," he says, "against dodging South American customs that I ever see nohow, and being I never see a South American man that took much stock in 'em either, I ain't so uppish as to differ."
Then Stevey Todd chimed in and made a tidy argument, quoting Scripture to prove that "actions with intent to deceive, and deception pursuant," weren't moral, and, moreover, he says: "Shall we lose our souls because S. A. customs is ridiculous? Tell me that!"
"Shucks!" says the mate; "we're saved by grace!"
Then Captain Clyde took it up and his argument was beautiful. For he said S. A. customs were oppressive to the poor of that country by wrongfully preventing them from buying U. S. goods; so that, having sworn to the U. S., we weren't bound by S. A. laws further than humanity or the Dago was able to enforce; "which," he says, "I argue ain't either of 'em the case."
"That's a tart argiment, Captain Clyde," says the bos'n. "I never heerd you make a tarter."
They went on that way till it made my head ache, and before I knew it I was arguing hard against the bos'n, the captain egging me on.
I sailed with that crew four years. They were smugglers. I'm free to say I loved Clyde, and liked the crew. For, granting he was much of a miser and maybe but a shrewd old man, to be corrupting folks with his theories, though I'm not so sure about that, not knowing what he really thought; yet, he was a bold man, and a kind man, and I never saw one that was keener in judgment. You might say he had made that crew to suit him, having picked out the material one by one, and they were most of all like children of his bringing up. I judge he had a theory about arguments, that so long as they talked up to him and freed their opinions, there wouldn't be any secret trouble brewing below, or maybe it was only his humour. It was surely a fact that they were steady in business and a rare crew to his purpose, explain it as one may. He taught me navigation, and treated me like a son, and it's not for me to go back on him. I don't know why he took to me that way, and different from the rest. He taught me his business and how he did it. I was the only one who knew. He was absolute owner as well as captain, and his own buyer and seller as well. He carried no cargoes but his own, which he made up for the most part in New York or Philadelphia, and would bill the _Hebe Maitland_ maybe to Rio Janeiro. Then the _Hawk_ would maybe deliver the biggest part off the coast of Venezuela in the night, and the _Hebe Maitland_ would, like as not, sail into Rio by-and-by and pay her duty on the rest, and take a cargo to New York as properly as a lady going to church.
There were a good many countries in South America to choose from. It wasn't wise to visit the same one right along, though there was apt to be a new government when we came again. Clyde knew all about it. I'm not saying but what an odd official of a government here and there was acquainted with the merits of a percentage, being instructed in it by the same. For all that there was excitement. It was a great life. Sometimes I catch myself heaving a sigh for the old man that's dead, and saying to myself, "That was a great life yonder."
My recollection is, it was a sub-agent in Cuba who turned evidence on Clyde at last, for a gunboat missed us by only a few miles coming down by St. Christopher, as I heard afterward. Then a Spanish cruiser ran us down, at last, under a corner of a little island among the Windwards, about thirty miles east of Tobago, where Clyde's cleverness came to nothing.
It was growing twilight, we driving close off the low shores of the island. The woods were dark above the shore, and half a mile out was the black cruiser, with a pennon of smoke against the sky, and the black water between. I went into Clyde's cabin and found him talking to himself.
"We'll be scuttling her, Tom," he says.
With that he gave a jerk at the foot of his bunk, and the footboard came off, and there underneath were four brown canvas bags tied up with rope. Now, I never knew before that day that Clyde didn't keep his money in a bank, same as any other civilised gentleman, and it shows how little I knew about him, after all. He sat there holding up eagles and double pesos to the lamplight, with his eyes shining and his wrinkled old mouth smiling.
"What are you going to do with that?" I says, surprised at the sight of it, and he kept on smiling.
"I guess you and I will take the shiners ashore," he says; "I'd give you a writing, but it would do you no good, Tommy. I'm what they called tainted."
"I don't know what you mean by that," I says. "Scuttled she is, if you say so. Shall we row for Tobago?"
"Well, I'll tell you how it is, Tommy," he says. "I don't know what the Dagos will do, and they're pretty likely to get us anyhow, but we'll give 'em a hunt. But I've got a fancy you ain't got to the end of your rope yet, lad," and he says no more for a minute or two, and then he heaves a sigh and says: "The shiners are yours if they cut me off. I won't give you no more advice, Tommy, but I wish you luck."
But I don't see why he had such a notion that he was near his own end.
It was a hard thing to do, to blow a hole in the bottom of the good ship. The night was dark now, but the lights of the cruiser in plain sight, and we knew she'd stand off until morning, or as long as the _Hebe Maitland's_ lanterns burned at the masts. The crew put off in three boats to round the island and wait for us, and Clyde and I took the fourth boat, and stowed the canvas bags, and went ashore, running up a little reedy inlet to the end. We buried them in the exact middle of a small triangle of three trees. Then we rowed out, and I threw the spade in the water, and when we rounded the island, taking a last look at the _Hebe Maitland_, she was dipping considerable, as could be seen from the hang of her lanterns. Clyde changed to another boat and put Sadler, Craney, Irish, Abe Dalrimple, and Stevey Todd, into mine.
I noticed it as curious about us, that so long as the old man was at hand, telling us what to do, we all acted chipper and cheerful, but as soon as we'd drifted apart, we grew quieter, and Stevey Todd began to act scared and lost, and was for seeing Spanish cruisers drop out of the air, and for calling the old man continually. Somehow we dropped apart in the dark.
I've sometimes fancied that Clyde put me in that boat with those men because it was the lightest boat, and because Sadler, Craney, and Little Irish were powerful good rowers, and Abe he had this that was odd about him for a steersman, for though he was always a bit wandering in his mind, yet he could tell land by the smell. Put him within twenty miles of land at sea, no matter how small an island, and he'd smell the direction of it, and steer for it like a bullet, and that's a thing he don't understand any more than I. I never made out why Clyde took to me that way, as he surely did, and left me his shiners as sure as he could, and gave me what chance he could for getting away, or so I fancied. Just so surely I never saw him again, when once we'd drifted apart that night among the Windwards.
A New Orleans paper of the week after held an item more or less like this:
"An incoming steamer from Trinidad, reports the overhauling of a smuggler, _The Hawk_, by the Spanish cruiser, _Reina Isabella_. The smugglers scuttled the ship and endeavoured to escape, but were captured, and are thought to have been all hanged. This summary action would seem entirely unjustifiable, as smuggling is not a capital offence under any civilised law. The disturbed state of affairs under our Spanish-American neighbours may account for it. _The Hawk_ is stated to be an old offender. No American vessel of this name and description being known however, it is not likely that there will be any investigation."
The New York _Shipping News_ of three months later had this:
"The bark, _Hebe Maitland_, Mdse., Clyde, Cap., which left this port the 9th of April, has not yet been heard from."
So the _Reina Isabella_ thought she got all the crew of the _Hebe Maitland_, likely she thinks so yet, for I don't know of anybody that ever dropped around to correct her; but being as we rowed all night to westward and were picked up next morning by an English steamer bound for Colon on the Isthmus of Panama, and were properly landed in course of time, I argue there were some of them she didn't get. Their names, as standing on Clyde's book, were, "Robert Sadler, James Hagan, Stephen Todd, Julius R. Craney, Abimelech Dalrimple, Thomas Buckingham."
Kid Sadler, as he was known there and then and since, was a powerful man, bony and tall, with a scrawny throat, ragged, dangling moustache, big hands, little wrinkles around his eyes, and a hoarse voice. I wouldn't go so far as to say I could give you his character, for I never made it out; yet I'd say he was given to sentiment, and to turning out poetry like a corn-shucker, and singing it to misfit and uneducated tunes, and given to joyfulness and depression by turns, and to misleading his fellow-man when he was joyful, and suffering remorse for it afterward pretty regular, taking turns, like fever and chills; which qualities, when you take them apart, don't seem likely to fit together again, and I'm not saying they did fit in Sadler. They appeared to me to project over the edges. I never made him out.
Hagan I never knew to be called any name but "Irish," or "Little Irish," except by Clyde himself. He was small and chunky in build, and nervous in his mind, and had red fuzzy hair that stuck up around his head like an aureole. Generally silent he was, except when excited, and seemed even then to be settled to his place in this world, which was to be Sadler's heeler. He followed Sadler all his after days, so far as I know, same as Stevey Todd did me. I don't know why, but I'd say as to Irish, that he was a man without much stiffness or stay-by, if left to himself, whereas Sadler was one that would rather be in trouble than not, if he had the choice.
As to Craney, I'll say this. When Clyde and I were coming out of the inlet, he gave me a hundred and forty dollars, and he says,
"Look out for Craney," but I had no notion what he meant by it. Now, soon after we landed in Colon, Craney and Abe Dalrimple got a chance for a passage to New York, and my hundred and forty went off somewhere about the same time. Sadler, Irish, nor Stevey Todd didn't take it, for they didn't have it, not to speak of other reasons. Abe's given to wandering in his mind, but he don't wander that way either. Now, there were thieves enough in Colon, and Craney never owned to it, but I'll say he showed a weakness afterward for putting
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